Bountiful, British Columbia, is a town just across the Canada/U.S. border, close to the Washington/Idaho line – which makes it about a 3 hour drive from Spokane. Think fly fishing!
Unlike Miss Daisy’s special ride, a trip to Bountiful today puts one in the midst of a settlement of one of the off-shoots of the LDS church that continues to cling to polygamy.
This community was settled about 60 years ago, and has constantly been the focus of allegations of forced marriages of underage girls, child abuse and the trafficking of wives across the Canada-U.S. border. Polygamy is illegal in Canada as it is in all 50 U.S. states. But the location of this community immediately north of the border leads one to believe that things might be different in Canada.
In British Columbia a recent multi-year Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigation, the most detailed in decades, was turned into the prosecutors last fall. Despite the clarity of the evidence in this investigation, the laws against plural marriages in Canada are so rarely prosecuted that a strong case can be made that they are already de facto legal.
Despite that, the B.C. Attorney General took this case to court. He insisted the polygamy law has teeth. “I don’t think by virtue of the fact a law has not been enforced makes it an invalid law,” he says. “It’s a sufficiently serious issue that it should be resolved in court. If charges aren’t laid, maybe governments should think of revising that law and maybe abrogating it.”
The catalyst for the investigation is the thousand or so members of the Bountiful community. There the members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) live “the Principle” — beliefs rooted in the earliest Mormon teachings. A central tenet is that men must accumulate plural wives to achieve the highest level of salvation, a belief that the mainstream LDS church abandoned in 1890.
But on September 23, 2009 a judge on British Columbia’s Supreme Court dismissed criminal charges against two alleged polygamists who declared that Canadian law protects their right to have more than one wife.
One man was charged with one count of polygamy with at least 19 women named in an indictment. The other was charged with having two wives. They faced a maximum penalty of five years in prison. The judge ruled the provincial government went beyond its authority to pursue charges against the men.
The key argument of the defendants was that that Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms protect their religious rights to have more than one wife and trumps anti-polygamy laws.
A representative of Stop Polygamy in Canada said she’s devastated by the decision. “We are back to square one. The polygamists will see this as a great victory.”
It is not yet known whether the case will be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. However, if it is not appealed, one would have to assume that as of today, polygamy is legal in Canada. Rumors that land prices across the Canadian border have suddenly risen have not yet been confirmed.
Dr. Don K. Clements is the president of Metokos Ministries and Administrator of The Aquila Report.